As any visitor to the Maryland State House over the past five years can guess, something big is brewing in the old Senate Chamber. The bare brick walls of the chamber have inspired many questions as to what’s going on. Why has the room been stripped down? What does it mean? The answers are simple. The State of Maryland has undertaken to restore the room to its appearance in 1783 when it was center stage in the birth of our nation.
From November 1783 to August 1784, the Continental Congress used the Maryland State House as its place of assembly, and it was in this chamber, as all Maryland school children can tell you, that George Washington resigned his position as commander in chief of the Continental Army. As important as this was, it was not the only event to take place during that time. On January 14, 1784, Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris officially ending America’s struggle for independence. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Jefferson was named America’s first ambassador to a foreign country.
Maryland has always been extremely proud of the role the old Senate Chamber played on the national stage, but in the intervening two centuries the Senate Chamber was unfortunately stripped of its colonial interior. In the 1870s, as the State House underwent a major overhaul to address structural problems, the room was gutted leaving virtually no visible trace of the 18th century. Less than thirty years later, however, public outcry resulted in a restoration of the room. This early preservation endeavor captured the spirit of the room’s original finish and allowed visitors to once again experience the significance of what was now called the Old Senate Chamber.
Almost a century after that restoration, structural problems required invasive repair work on the plaster of the room, and this work revealed evidence of the original finishes that was previously unknown and which sparked an in-depth study of the room’s 18th-century fabric. Newly uncovered documents, along with advanced investigative technologies, have led the state to undertake a second restoration, one that is more accurate and authentic than was possible in 1905.
MHT hopes to use this blog to document the reconstruction effort over the next several years allowing visitors to our site to understand the physical and documentary evidence that will restore the old Senate Chamber to a room that Washington would recognize.
The old Senate Chamber restoration project is a collaborative effort between the Department of General Services and the Maryland Historical Trust, with full approval of the State House Trust, and assistance from the Old Senate Chamber Advisory Committee. The Maryland State Archives also serves as a partner in undertaking documentary research on the room as well as the lead role in the interpretation and exhibits within the Senate Chamber and adjacent rooms.
Efforts so far have focused on the investigation phase of the project. Stay tuned for more entries relating to the history of the room, the project team, and results of the investigation.